Humble hatchback trades space for sparkle PLUS & MINUS
Nation’s favourite forgoes space for sizzle
FEW CARS are as important as the Toyota Corolla. The model’s demure image belies its significance to the bottom line of one of the world’s largest car manufacturers. If you average out the sales figures, a Corolla is sold somewhere in the world roughly every 30 seconds. Now there’s a new one, and it has a hell of a job on its hands.
Thankfully, it seems the days of Toyota resting on its laurels are over. The brand’s long-term survival depends on a change in strategy and for the twelfth-gen Corolla, that strategy is led by technology – in the engine bay, wheel wells and behind the dash.
The base Ascent Sport comes with a six-speed manual with downshift rev-matching, but the rest of the three-variant line-up receives a CVT by default, whether your choose 2.0-litre petrol or 1.8-litre hybrid power. Toyota, conscious of the CVT’S reputation for rubber-band response, has engineered a solution in the form of a mechanical ‘launch gear’. Only available with the 2.0-litre petrol, it sharpens take-off while improving response to sudden demands for acceleration. It’s no gimmick – it works a treat.
The 125kw/200nm 2.0-litre petrol is perky (though noisy) and provides plenty of urge right up to the 6400rpm redline, and the CVT also does the neat trick of behaving like a regular automatic when you floor the accelerator, moving up through 10 ‘gear’ steps rather than slurring through constantly-changing ratios. Shift paddles are also there should you feel a little frisky. It’s a shame the 90kw/163nm hybrid’s CVT isn’t the same unit, but it’s no deal breaker given a focus on efficiency rather than sportiness.
The new multi-link rear suspension is a massive step up over the old car’s torsion beam. Its calibration feels well suited to Australian roads, delivering outstanding pliancy over rough sections, along with keen cornering. It seems the standard brake torque vectoring system helps here too.
The top-grade Corolla ZR, which replaces the 16-inch alloys of the Ascent Sport and SX with 18s wearing Dunlop SP Sport rubber, is sharper, but brings a more brittle ride and increased tyre roar.
The interior is a mixed bag. The design is handsome and the top-shelf ZR wows with a digital instrument panel, colour head-up display and body-hugging front sports seats, but the absence of satellite navigation in the Ascent Sport stings a little given its $22,870 price (it’s available as a $1000 option), and there’s no Android Auto or Apple Carplay smartphone mirroring available to get around that shortfall.
Comfort and space are great up front, but the story isn’t so rosy
aft of the B-pillar. Despite a 40mm wheelbase stretch there’s a shortage of rear legroom, and the trade-off for the Corolla’s athletic new look is reduced rear headroom. A scallopedout headlining attempts to maximise what’s available under a newly lowered roofline but also lends the rear compartment a claustrophobic feel. While the ZR grade boasts a pair of rear seat air vents, they’re absent in Ascent Sport and SX, which seems stingy. And with bulkier IRS, most versions (see annotation, right) have a small cargo compartment by class standards. At 217L it’s smaller than the outgoing Corolla.
More attractive and responsive, with greater tech, yet also a bit less practical than it used to be, the new Corolla’s formula has shifted in line with aspirations of a more driver-oriented Toyota. No doubt buyers will vote with their wallets on whether it’s a shift in the right direction.
Attractive styling; ride and handling; capable 2.0-litre petrol Rear seat space sorely lacking; boot space trails segment rivals Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Toyota Corolla SX 1987cc, 4cyl, dohc, 16v 125kw @ 6600rpm 200Nm @ 4400-4800rpm CVT 1360kg 9.0sec (estimated) 6.0L/100km $26,870 Now